The nutritional makeup of an animal’s meat by-products is determined by the diet composition, genetics and the breed of an animal. Most beef cattle in the U.S. are fed a grain-based diet typically consisting of corn and grain by-products, after spending the several months of life consuming a forage-based diet. However, recently beef produced from cattle fed exclusively forage or grass has been gaining popularity. This article will explore the differences between beef from grain-fed and grass-fed cattle.

What's the difference?

First, it is important to understand what the terms grain-fed and grass-fed mean.

  • Grain-fed cattle are fed a diet consistently of grains or grain based by-products (corn, distiller’s grains, wheat, barley, or soybean meal) after they are weaned.
  • Grass-fed cattle are fed exclusively grass or forage after weaning. Grass-fed beef will be labeled as such on the packaging, and should also bear the USDA certification stamp confirming that the animal was exclusively grass-fed.

The table below highlights some of the main difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef.

Grain-Fed Beef

Grass-Fed Beef

Higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated “good” fats

Lower in total fat content, including the monounsaturated and polyunsatured “good” fats

A more tender meat texture after cooking and thus better palatability according to U.S. consumers

Potentially higher content of energy-producing B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin

Cheaper by an average of $2-3 per pound

Higher antioxidant content (antioxidants such as β-carotene & α-tocopherol, are compounds that are protective against oxidative damage to the cells in the body)

 

Bottom Line, while there are slight differences in fat content between the two types of beef, there is no difference in protein content. Additionally, differences in other vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc, have not been shown to be significantly difference between grain-fed and grass-fed cattle. Finally, taste and palatability differences between the two types of beef can vary depending on the maturity of the forage or grass, overall fat content, beef genetics, and individual preferences of the consumer.

Overall, while there are some differences between grain-fed and grass-fed beef, these differences do not appear to be significant. Ultimately, it is up to the consumer to determine which type of beef they prefer based on nutrient profile, taste, and cost preferences.